There was little remarkable about Macon, Georgia's two daily newspapers in 1940.
The newspapers had new owners, and a new publisher was on the scene. Otherwise, the people who worked at the Telegraph and News were nervously watching events in Europe, like everyone else in the nation.
But it was here that a group of men formed friendships and later business associations that would have a profound impact on newspaper ownership patterns, particularly in the Southeast, for the next seven decades.
The man who came to run the Macon newspapers for the new owners was a self-educated son of a south Georgia cotton farmer named Carmage Walls. Walls would soon learn a lot about operating and acquiring community newspapers, a knowledge he freely shared with those he felt had a similar entrepreneurial spirit.
Today, 22 companies owning 61 daily newspapers and numerous non-dailies can trace their roots to Walls or one of his associates in Macon.
Many current newspaper companies still bear the names of reporters, editors, ad salesmen, bookkeepers and printers who worked at the Macon dailies in the 1940s.
A Self-Made Man
Carmage Walls liked to say he got into the newspaper business by accident. At age 15, he was standing in the mailroom at the Orlando (FL) Sentinel watching his cousin insert comics when the foreman put him to work doing the same thing.
Walls dropped out of high school and continued to work in the newspaper’s circulation department for several years. Having completed a correspondence course in accounting, Walls persuaded the newspaper’s business manager, S. W. Calkins, to take him on as an assistant bookkeeper.
A year later Calkins moved on (he later founded a company that still owns a group of newspapers in Pennsylvania), and Walls took his job as business manager.
Subsequently, Walls went to Macon after Charles Marsh, whose company General Newspapers owned the Orlando paper, acquired a one-third interest in the Macon newspapers. In 1945 Walls became president of General Newspapers.
Walls engineered a number of acquisitions for General and created for Marsh the Public Welfare Foundation, a non-profit supporting disadvantaged people. Marsh later donated three newspapers into the fund – the Gadsden (AL) Times, Tuscaloosa (AL) News and Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal. Walls also donated a considerable amount of his company stock to the foundation.
The Macon Network
In Macon, Walls found a group of people who in many ways shared his views on publishing and his entrepreneurial zest. Some were already there; others were recruited. Many had their stints in Macon interrupted by military service in World War II.
But by the time General Newspapers began to wind down and Walls’ own company, Southern Newspapers, began to ramp up, Walls had a cadre of managers who would form the basis of his legacy.
Buford Boone, a reporter and later editor at the Macon Telegraph, became publisher of the Tuscaloosa daily and held the operating lease on the newspaper for the Public Welfare Foundation. While publisher in Tuscaloosa, Boone won a Pulitzer Prize.
Similarly, Phil Buchheit, an ad salesman for the Macon newspapers, later ran the Spartanburg newspapers and had the contract to operate them for the foundation.
“Pop” Smith and his two sons – Taylor and Battle – worked in the pressroom and newsrooms in Macon.
Jim Lancaster, while stationed at the air base in nearby Warner Robins, answered a classified ad for a bookkeeper at the Macon newspapers.
Robert Fackelman was a city editor in Macon before leaving for military service.
Walls offered ownership positions in newspapers to promising managers, which helped many get started building larger enterprises – always with Walls’ blessing.
Today, these five families own 29 daily newspapers. Walls’ family members have built significant companies as well, with 19 dailies among them.
The Network Expands
As Walls built General and his own company, the network grew beyond Macon.
Fred Hartman was editor at the Baytown (TX) Sun when Walls bought it for General. Walls made him publisher and later invested in newspaper acquisitions with the Hartman family.
More than a quarter century later, Jim Chionsini left a management position with Southern Newspapers and bought a small Texas weekly. Today he owns 17 newspapers.
Many of these families carried on the Walls tradition of allowing key managers to buy equity positions in newspapers and helping them build their own companies.
Phil Buchheit befriended an employee in a diner he frequented in Spartanburg. He convinced this soda jerk, Doyle “Red” Shirley, to join the newspaper and ultimately made him publisher in Lanett, Alabama. Shirley’s sons now own two dailies in Louisiana.
As impressive as the list of current newspaper owners is, other one-time Walls associates and partners built and sold significant companies.
Gene Worrell and his son Tom built the largest of these. Gene Worrell had been a partner with Walls in Bristol and other newspapers before the two separated their holdings. Worrell Enterprises had owned newspapers in Virginia and 10 other states before selling its properties in the 1990s.
Others include the late Les Daughtry, the longtime Galveston publisher for the Walls, and Tutt Bradford, one-time owner of the daily in Maryville, Tennessee.
Carmage Walls died in 1998 at the age of 90. But his legacy is still very much alive, not just in the companies still run by his children and the children of his associates. Numerous newspapers owners have been trained in the companies of the Walls network, imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit of these companies, and struck out on their own.
Jerry Turner, owner of dailies in Oklahoma, and others have come out of Boone Newspapers; John Badoud and Alan Brill were veterans of Worrell Newspapers; and Joe Albrecht, owner of newspapers in Tennessee, worked for Carmage’s son Lee Walls.